Russia: Renewed Vigor And Fewer Constraints


August 4, 2013: The government admitted that its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War confirmed that the military had a lot of fundamental problems that had to be addressed. The exercises ended on July 20 th, and the military leadership is already putting together a plan to solve the problems. What the exercises revealed was what everyone already knew (thanks to the Internet and post-Cold War press freedoms). The basic problem is that the military has been faking it, pretending that its schools are teaching new officers and troops properly and that equipment is maintained properly. The basic problem is corruption and government officials insisting that the heads of the military pretend that the armed forces are better prepared for action than they actually are. The government is now admitting this actually happened and is trying to fix the problem. That would be quite an accomplishment because the “problem” has been quite persistent for centuries. Fixing this particular tradition won’t be easy.  

The national government and local authorities in Dagestan disagree over the extent of the terrorist problem in the Caucasus. The government believes there are some 40 different terrorist groups in the Caucasus, most of them in Dagestan. But the Dagestani government believes there are fewer groups and no more than 200 terrorists currently in Dagestan. Part of the discrepancy may be due to the large number (over a hundred, possibly several hundred) Islamic terrorists from the Caucasus who have gone to Syria in the past year.

Over the last few years, about 400 people a year have died from terrorism related activities in Dagestan. This includes terrorists, security forces, and civilians. The Russian war against Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus continues with greater intensity this year. That’s because of a government effort to eliminate, or greatly weaken, Islamic terror groups in the country before the 2014 Winter Olympics are held at Sochi (just north of the Caucasus). That may prove difficult because the problem is part of a centuries-long battle with unruly peoples in the Caucasus. In the first three months of this year 73 Islamic terrorists were killed in the Caucasus, compared to 88 for the same period last year. Arrests are also down (from 133 to 88). What has gone up is finding hideouts (up from 24 to 26) and caches of weapons and equipment (up from 59 to 115). The counter-terrorism leadership believes they are winning. But that’s a relative term because this sort of disorder has been standard in the area for as long as anyone can remember.  The three Russian Caucasus provinces (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan) have been unusually violent for the last decade, leaving over 10,000 terrorists, civilians, and security personnel dead. This is not unusual for the Caucasus, as the Russians occupied the area two centuries ago in response to the chronic unrest and banditry (which preyed on nearby Russian territory). Nothing much has changed in all that time and the three provinces still see up to a hundred killed and wounded each month because of terrorist activity. The Soviets had suppressed the violence for many decades (via mass punishment, deportations, and lots more arrests) and once the Soviet police state was gone, the people of the Caucasus went back to their ancient ways with renewed vigor and fewer constraints. The current Russian government is also turning back to their authoritarian past, which does not bode well for the Caucasus.

August 3, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) a policeman was killed and three wounded at a checkpoint when passengers in an approaching car opened fire. Elsewhere in Dagestan a prominent anti-terrorism Islamic cleric was shot dead by what were apparently Islamic terrorists. This is the third such attack this year, compared to eight for all of last year.

In Cuba a Russian Navy squadron (a cruiser, a destroyer, and supply ships) paid a visit, the first in four years.

July 31, 2013: A Turkish shepherd crossed the Armenian border from Turkey to find a lost sheep and encountered a patrol of Russian soldiers. The Russians reported that the Turk fired on them and they killed him with return fire. Turkey accused Russia of overreacting and demanded an apology. Turkey cut diplomatic relations with Armenia in 1993, and closed the border to protest a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan (an oil rich nation on the Caspian that used to be part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and is inhabited mostly by a Turkic people called Azeris). The 1993 war was lost by larger and wealthier Azerbaijan and ended in a ceasefire that Russia helped arrange. Russia then stepped in and signed a military alliance with Armenia. This included permission for Russia to establish military bases in Armenia, in addition to building an air defense system and using Russian troops to help patrol the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Russia has long (for centuries) supported Armenia (which, like Russia, is Christian) against the Azeris (who are Moslems). These days, Russia sends diplomats to Azerbaijan to placate the Azeris and promises to defend them if they are attacked by neighboring Iran, or whatever it takes to calm down the Azeris. This actually works, and Russia maintains good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, even though the Azeris have been spending billions to build their armed forces up to retake the territory lost to the Armenians two decades ago.

July 30, 2013: Syrian Islamic terrorists released a video on the Internet urging Islamic terrorists in Dagestan to remain where they are instead of trying to come to Syria to fight alongside other Islamic terrorists against the pro-Russian Assad dictatorship. The Syrian Islamic radicals point out that the fight against Russia in Russia is very important and Islamic terrorists from the Caucasus are the most active in that struggle. Exactly why this appeal was made is unclear. It may be the result of the Islamic terrorist force in the Caucasus being greatly weakened by those going to Syria.

July 29, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) police arrested a terrorist leader (Ilmudin Kaibekov) and in the next 24 hours that led to the discovery of a terrorist bomb workshop in a remote government facility. Some 50 kg (110 pounds) of explosives were seized, some of them already part of assembled bombs.

July 23, 2013: In the south (Dagestan) two Islamic terrorists were killed at a checkpoint after they opened fire on police.

July 20, 2013: Russia completed its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War in 1991. Near the Pacific coast the military has assembled nearly 100,000 troops, over a thousand armored vehicles, 130 warplanes, and 70 warships to practice repelling a hypothetical invasion by Japanese and American forces. A Chinese naval task force (19 ships, including detachments of special operations troops) came north to join in. Many of the Russian ground force units were called in on short notice, to test their ability to respond in an emergency. Exercises (especially the surprise or “snap” ones) like this do provide some military training, but are also there for propaganda purposes, to reinforce the popular belief that the armed forces are making a comeback from their rapid decline in the 1990s. These particular exercises also reinforce the government claims that America is threatening Russia.

July 19, 2013: The government revealed that the cause of a recent satellite launch failure was criminal negligence by space program workers and managers. At the Soviet era Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, a Russian Proton-M rocket exploded ten seconds after launch on July 2nd, destroying three Glonass (Russian GPS) satellites it was carrying. This disaster cost Russia over $200 million and further blemished the reliability of Russian satellite launch services. The satellites, being state property, were not insured so the total loss comes out of the government budget.  An investigation of the wreckage soon revealed that the cause of the Proton-M failure was the installation of a sensor upside down, which caused the rocket control system to believe the rocket was going in the wrong direction. The rocket then tried to adjust for the incorrect sensor signal and began behaving erratically and crashed. There were supposed to be visual inspections of all installed equipment and the government is seeking to discover who did not do their job. This is supposed to lead to the prosecution of whoever was responsible. During the Soviet period (1921-1991) those responsible for disasters like this would often be executed or imprisoned. But now the government corruption and inefficiency makes it difficult to get competent people to run operations like the Space Agency. 




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